Italian title: Il triangolo della paura (The Triangle of Fear)
German title: Der Commander
English title: The Commander
Director: Anthony Dawson (Antonio Margheriti)
Writers: Tito Carpi, Arne Elsholtz & Giacomo Furia
Music: Walter Baumgartner
Production Company: Erwin C. Dietrich/ Ascot Film/ Rome Prestige Film
A Federal Republic of Germany/ Italy co-production
|Colby (Lewis Collins) demonstrating one of his main facial expression|
Major Colby (Lewis Collins) is a hired gun, who with his small band of mercenaries will go into hostile situations, shoot up loads of guys, and generally save the day. We see this early in the film when they storm a villa to rescue an American family being held by kidnappers or terrorists. Colby is clearly respected by his men, who will follow him anywhere even if it means certain death.
|From the right: Colby (Lewis Collins), Mason/ Hiccock (Manfred Lehmann) and their gang of mercenaries|
Meanwhile, down a river in an inhospitable jungle, General Dong (Protacio Dee) runs a drugs, weapons and terrorism operation, having just shot his former superior for not being ruthless enough. He takes over the compound and the negotiations with potential business interests, placing bombs in their helicopters if decides not to do business with them after all. Somehow Dong's men have got hold of a CD rom which contains the names of secret agents which he intends to sell to the highest bidder, and which would be a major disaster if it fell into criminal hands (which sounds remarkably like the plot of Skyfall).
|General Dong (Protacio Dee) going in for a kiss, or blowing out birthday candles|
Henry Carlson (Donald Pleasence), a cigar-chomping CIA chief based in Berlin decides that the only way to get this CD back is to call in Colby and his guys. Not wanting to hedge his bets, he also brings in one of Hiccock (Manfred Lehmann), one of his best agents. They kidnap one of Colby's former mercenaries called Mason, to whom Hiccock bears a strong resemblance. Hiccock is made to have plastic surgery so he can now fool Colby into thinking he is actually Mason, so that should anything go wrong with the operation, the CD will definitely get back to the CIA.
|Sometimes a cigar is just a good smoke. Henry Carlson (Donald Pleasance) showing us how it's done|
Meanwhile up in a cliff-top villa on the Amalfi coast, Colonel Mazzarini (Lee Van Cleef) struts around sporting an earring and a straw hat. He's one of the bad guys who trades in the drugs and crime sold by General Dong, and he also wants to get his hands on that CD.
|Mazzarini (Lee Van Cleef) wears a straw hat like a pro|
Colby gets the gang together, including his former best pal Mason, and also secures the help of local military, including the beautiful Ling (former Filipino beauty queen Chat Silayan) who quickly forms a romantic bond with Mason.
|Ling (Chat Silayan) provides glamour as well as backup|
He also employs the assistance of an untrustworthy Frenchman Duclaud (John Steiner), who he finds at a cock-fighting den, to guide them through the jungle. I wonder if he will turn out to be a traitor?
|Can you tell whether Duclaud (John Steiner) is French? I'm not sure|
With everyone in place, the stage is set for a an adventure as the mercenaries drive huge trucks down perilous muddy jungle tracks (a la Wages of Fear or Sorcerer), fight with local rebels, and eventually storm Dong's base in an explosive finale.
The Commander is the third film in a Margheriti-Lewis Collins jungle trilogy, the other two films being Code Name: Wild Geese (1984) and Kommando Leopard (1985), and was clearly expected to appeal to the same VHS customers who rented Commando (1985, Mark L. Lester, USA: SLM Production Group/ Silver Pictures/ Twentieth Century Fox) and First Blood (1982, Ted Kotcheff, USA: Anabasis N.V./ Elcajo Productions). The plot is overly complicated, as my attempt at a summary might have suggested. An Italian/ German co-production shot for the English market in Italy, Berlin, Thailand and the Philippines with a multi-lingual cast was bound to be an interesting and complicated experience. Things seems to have got lost along the way in the translation, the most glaring being the fact that everyone keeps referring to a "floppy disk" despite it clearly being a CD which is being waved around. That's quite a big difference, and we did know what CDs were in the late 1980s.
Perhaps the biggest translation mistake is the title itself: The Commander. As you will have noticed in my careful description of the main characters, none of them is a "Commander." Colby is a Major and Dong and Mazzarini are both Colonels. No one is referred to as a Commander at any point. This is something of an embarrassing oversight.
I have searched extensively for any contemporary reviews and can find nothing. The film was released on VHS in 1988 with a 15 certificate by Entertainment in Video, and seems to have gone completely unnoticed. It may have faired better in Germany, but my German is not good enough to be able to tell. A barebones DVD was put out by Arrow in 2012 as part of their short-lived Arrowdrome label and one or two websites did run mostly scathing reviews at the time. According to the BBFC database both released versions feature cuts, but until I make a Margheriti research trip to the BBFC office I am unable to say what material is missing. It's possibly a mistake, but the Arrow release was purportedly cut by 1 minute and six seconds, whereas the VHS release was only cut by seven seconds. Hopefully one day I will be able to clarify how accurate this is. My educated guess is that the uncut film features more cock-fighting.
This is a better film than one might expect, and the print quality is certainly of a higher standard than one might expect for something which was shot for VHS. Margheriti's trademark use of miniatures is in full effect, particularly in the climactic battle at Dong's base. Allegedly this sequence actually reuses some of the special effects shots from Code Name: Wild Geese. Despite the complicated plot, the pacing is good and the cast put in committed performances. The Commander has intrigue, action, romance, excitement and humour, which back in 1988 when you've already seen all the Rambo films would have made this an enjoyable alternative at the video rental shop.